By Nicola Asamoa
Tabloids and magazines are stuffed full of pictures of celebrities stumbling out of nightclubs in the small hours, often the worse for wear. But who are the photographers behind the lenses, and how do they operate?
At 10 o'clock on a chilly Thursday night I arrive in central London to meet two guys who, on a good night, can pocket several grand from a few clicks of a camera shutter.
The resulting snaps, often of a celebrity, half-cut, stumbling from nightclub doorway to chauffeur-driven limo, go on to grace the pages of tabloid newspapers and magazines, where they are eagerly lapped up by fame-obsessed readers seeking a new fix.
A black three-door Fiat Punto pulls up beside me and out pops 18-year-old James Taylor. He's dressed in a hooded top, baggy jeans and the latest Nikes. James looks like he should be skateboarding, but what he can earn in a night many people twice his age won't make in a year.
He pulls back the seat and invites me into his "office", apologising as he does so for the unruly stacks of newspapers, magazines, empty Coke cans and fag packets on the back seat.
In the front passenger seat is Ben Brett, also 18, James's colleague. James talks me through the tools of their trade.
"I've got quite a fast camera, it takes five pictures a second and in this job you need to have a fast camera. A professional camera can cost anywhere between three and six grand."
Both James and Ben are night-time paparazzi photographers, and at 18 believe they are the youngest operators in this highly competitive job.
Handling a camera
James's father, Dave, runs Xposure Photo Agency and two of his brothers are already in the trade. So when Ben and James did not excel at school, Mr Taylor senior suggested they learnt how to handle a camera and join the agency as photographers.
James laughs when recalling his first snap. "It was of Geri Halliwell. It was a terrible picture, I cut her arms and legs off. You could just about see the top of her head."
Things changed though when he got an exclusive picture of David and Victoria Beckham.
"They were coming out of a restaurant and Posh had her hands on David's 'goldenballs'. Well I made the most money for it," says James, although he suddenly turns coy when asked how much. However, a picture like that can fetch anything upwards of £30,000.
With exclusive snaps of A-list celebrities such as the Beckhams, the paparazzi, or "paps", can name their price.
We set off for Hugh Grant's house, but with the lights off we head round the corner to Liz Hurley's. Nothing doing.
£30k plus for the Beckhams (left), £100 maybe for Jennifer Ellison
"Let's try James Hewitt," suggests Ben, who exhibits a keen interest in the man who was once Princess Diana's lover. Diana's death, in 1997, and evidence that her car was being followed by photographers when it crashed, unleashed a wave of condemnation against the paparazzi.
Claims of paparazzi hounding the royals resurfaced recently when Prince Harry was said to have been involved in a scuffle with photographers outside a London nightclub.
James acknowledges the public's antipathy but says facing the paparazzi is part of being famous, and many stars use the press as much as the other way round.
Ben was one of the handful of paps who got a picture of Mr Hewitt being arrested in July, on suspicion of possessing cocaine. Mr Hewitt was later given a police caution. Ben's picture meanwhile made more than £100,000.
Having drawn a blank so far in the evening, we head towards Mayfair. After much driving, James spots a group of paps on the street outside a club.
After quizzing some of their rivals, hopes of A-list celebrity inside the club are dashed - the rumour is it's Jordan and Peter Andre. But Ben and James are undeterred and join the pack of 15-20 snappers.
The doormen are among the paparazzi's most valuable contacts, supplying James and Ben with tip-offs on which celebrities are inside. For this, they expect 10% of the proceeds from any published pictures. There is no suggestion that anyone was tipped off tonight though.
When a black limo pulls up, the pack pounces, James and Ben among them, flash bulbs popping and shutters furiously clicking. But it's a false alarm.
"Ahh she's no one lads!" yells someone, and the action dies immediately.
But in the club that "someone" has yet to emerge. We've been outside, in the cold for nearly three hours. I suggest to James we pack it in, but he doesn't want to go home empty handed.
Ben shuffles over and finally we know who the mystery celebrity is: Jennifer Ellison. Who? Ben and James can't hide their disappointment on hearing the name of the former Brookside actress, and winner of Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen. They pray she's at least wearing something revealing or falls over in front of them - such shots earn more.
The paparazzi were blamed by many for Princess Diana's death
Suddenly there's a movement at the door, the bouncers emerge and out comes Ellison, dashing towards her car. The paps surge towards her, shouting: "Jen, Jen over here Jen". One stands directly in front of her, she doesn't quite know where to turn, some clubbers on the left shout out "Leave her alone!" The paps ignore them and keep snapping until she closes the car door.
It's over in less than a minute.
She was wearing jeans and didn't smile for the cameras, and definitely didn't fall over. Back in the Punto, Ben shows me his snaps.
"Rubbish. I'm a bit disappointed. She's not smiling, she's not wearing anything nice, she was snapped in that outfit earlier on today."
The pair are disappointed. It's 4am and they decide to call it a night. The picture might earn them £100, if they're lucky. But still, there's always tomorrow.
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